Science fiction is the art of saying “What if?” and then exploring the potential answers to that question and their ramifications. As such, it’s always looking forward.
We joke about not having our car that packs itself into a briefcase or our hoverboards, but how quickly was the world progressing toward the time the story was set in compared to when the story was written? No, seriously. Think about this. When The Jetsons debuted in 1962, it wasn’t uncommon for families to have a car or two. And because these cars were so sufficiently advanced from the cars of forty years previous, it wasn’t that hard to make the leap and believe that in another hundred years cars could fly and become as compact as a briefcase. (We’ll guess that science classes weren’t teaching laws of conservation at the time.)
Sadly, skateboard tech has not enjoyed the car’s innovations, so those hoverboards might take another fifty years to get here, too.
Star Trek brought viewers ideas of a spaceship that explored space the way old sailing ships used to explore oceans. Projects Mercury and Gemini had already shown Americans that it was possible to go into space. The Apollo program was already working toward reaching the moon. The thought of being able to actually live in space, traveling from planet to planet, seemed possible. It just hadn’t happened yet. (Sadly, innovations haven’t moved as quickly in that direction as many of us would like them to.)
Star Trek not only offered us hope of what life could be off-world, it offered an array of technology that seemed fantastical fifty years ago. But today, we have personal communication devices (that went through a flip-style at one point) and portable access devices. We can hold video chats across long distances. And scientists are working on molecular copy machines. (No, I don’t share Bones’ cynicism about transporters. I just understand when a scientist says he can only make a facsimile of me rather than move me as I am that I’m not going to be myself after the first trip through the transporter.)
Even near future science fiction, regardless of how dystopian or utopian it may be, has proven to not be science fiction for long. The cyberpunk subgenre has painted a picture of a gritty near future where cyborgs and wearable tech are common. Prosthetics and other medical assist devices are incredibly powerful and adept compared to the ones available just ten years ago, and we all know about Google’s foray into watches and Glass. Not bad for being only seven years away from the game Cyberpunk 2020, right?
For better or worse, science fiction will always be pushing what we know or what we don’t realize we already know, bringing us developments that might bring us a better lifestyle.